The book of Jeremiah describes a mysterious tribe with many seemingly Nabatean customs. Could the Rechabites have been Nabateans?

Rekhab’s Children?

An entire chapter of Jeremiah (35) is devoted to the story of the descendants of Jehonadab son of Rekhab, a leader of Israelite king Jehu’s purge of idolators. It tells of their unusual customs and nomadic lifestyle:

But they said, “We will drink no wine, for Jehonadab son of Rekhab our father  commanded us, saying, ‘Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons forever. Neither shall ye build a house, or sow seed, or plant vineyard, or have any, but all your days ye shall dwell in tents, that ye may live many days in the land where ye be strangers.’” (vv. 6–7)

Jehonadab’s progeny obeyed his command to the last detail, whereas the Israelites constantly rebelled against God’s will. As a result, Jeremiah promised, “Jehonadab son of Rekhab shall not lack a man to stand before Me forever” (vv. 17–19).

Diodorus of Sicily was one of the few ancient historians to mention the Nabateans. Writing in the first century BCE, he noted their nomadic lifestyle, lack of agriculture, and abstinence from wine. His description is very similar to the biblical account of the sons of Jehonadab son of Rekhab, causing some researchers to identify the Rekhabites as ancestors of the Nabateans. In fact, the talmudic sages trace Jehonadab to the desert-dwelling Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, whose native Midian encompassed the northwest Sinai Peninsula.

Of course there’s no conclusive evidence of any such connection, but if the Nabateans were indeed Rekhabites, Jeremiah’s prophecy that some would always remain could be said to have been fulfilled. The Nabateans, after all, were never wiped out or destroyed; they simply assimilated.